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desert or the city, his hour of prayer was the bour when the morning or evening sacrifice was offered up at Jerusalem. And to this day pilgrims of that afflicted and scattered nation come on their final journey to lay their bones in that consecrated soil, where repose the ashes of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob.
The first temple built by Solomon continued in its glory only thirty-seven years, when it was plundered by Shishak, king of Egypt. It afterwards underwent a variety of fortune under the different reigns of the kings of Judah, till at last it was taken and robbed of all its precious things by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, five hundred and eighty-eight years before Christ. It continued in a state of absolute desolation for fifty-two years, when the foundations of a new one were laid by Zorobabel, the lineal heir of the throne of David, at the command of Cyrus, king of Persia. This temple stood until seventeen years before the Christian era, when Herod the Great enlarged its size, and rebuilt it with a splendor and expense which far surpassed either of its predecessors. In this temple, though still unfinished, the infant Jesus was presented to God by his parents as their first born son, according to the provisions of the law. In this temple he appeared in the capacity of the Messiah, and delivered many of those immortal discourses which have gladdened and strengthened millions of hearts from that day to this. It was finally destroyed by Titus, seventy years after the birth of Christ, and now its site is occupied by a Mahommedan mosque, and no Jew or Christian is permitted to come within its precincts.
I turn now from the temple to the synagogue. Though the provisions under the first temple for worship may seem to us ample, those for religious instruction, compared with our present usages, must appear deficient. There is a tradition that this was the opinion of the Jews themselves after their return from the Babylonish captivity. It is said, that during their exile, they were led to reflect on the causes of their awful apostacy from Jehovah. And among them occurred as one of the most prominent, the ignorance into which they had fallen of the laws of Moses, and the fundamental principles of their religion. After their return they attempted to remedy the evil by building synagogues, or places of assembly, in every town and village throughout the country.
A more probable account of the matter to my mind is, that after their return from Chaldea the difficulties of imparting religious instruction were greatly increased, and roused them to new efforts. The Hebrew had become a dead language, and of course inaccessible to the mass of the people, except by an interpreter. They could no longer read their Scriptures at home, and when they pleased. The office of religious instructor could no longer be performed by
the Levite as such, but he was obliged to add to his other qualifications, the accomplishments of a scholar, and be able to read the Hebrew and interpret it into the Chaldee. This might be done for a while in families. But the natural course of things would be for many families to assemble on the Sabbath, and listen while one interpreted. When the assembly grew beyond the dimensions of a house, a special building for that purpose would be the most natural resort. Thus originated the synagogue. How they sprung up may be readily suggested by what is recorded to have taken place immediately after the return of the Jews, and their re-establishment in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. In the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah we read, that on a certain day at the feast of trumpets, in the year four hundred and forty-four before Christ, the people being assembled at Jerusalem, desired to hear their law. “ And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate: and they spake unto Ezra the Scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. And Ezra brought the book of the law before the congregation, and he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until mid-day, before the men and the women and those that could understand, and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the Scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose.” At his side stood thirteen of the principal elders of the nation whose names are given. “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and when he had opened it all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands, and they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” Then thirteen of the Levites whose names are also given, “caused the people to understand the law, and gave the sense,” that is, interpreted
, it from Hebrew into Chaldee.
Then and there, in a street of Jerusalem, growing out of the circumstances, nay, the difficulties of the time, was born the great instrument of the spiritual regeneration of the world, the invention of preaching, an institution which has done more to change the face of the world, and to elevate the level of society above any thing which was known in ancient times, than any thing else that can be named.
- For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The synagogue was modelled upon the assembly of Ezra, the Christian church was copied in a great measure after the forms of the synagogue, and the very pulpit
in which I now stand is a lineal descendant of the one which they built for Ezra two thousand two hundred and eighty-five years ago in the street of Jerusalem.
From the time of Ezra synagogues began to be established throughout the land wherever the population was sufficiently dense to compose an audience. The principal things about the synagogue were the seats for the congregation, corresponding to the assembly in the street of which we have just read, the reading desk corresponding to the pulpit of Ezra, the seats behind the pulpit for the elders, corresponding to those thirteen who stood beside Ezra when he read. There was still further back, an ark in which the sacred oracles were kept, from which the book of the law was brought to the desk by a special officer with great reverence and ceremony. The original Hebrew still continued to be read, though a dead language. Some one therefore must have interpreted to the congregation, corresponding to those thirteen Levites, “who gave the sense, and made the people to understand the law” under Ezra. This interpretation, or giving the sense, gradually enlarged itself into preaching. The Books of Moses were divided into as many portions as there were weeks in the year, as likewise the prophets after the times of the Maccabees. The texts of our modern preachers are nothing more nor less than the remnants of this